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Sending Taylor our love and appreciation

As many of you know, Taylor Willingham is not doing so well.  Taylor, who is a real shining star in our community, was diagnosed with kidney cancer this past fall. Despite multiples surgeries and various treatments, her recovery is not going well at this point.

Though she’s not up for too many phone calls and visitors, she LOVES getting and reading email messages.  Her good friend Diane Miller tells me she prints them out and re-reads them often.  You can email Taylor directly at taylor@austin-pacific.com, but I want to encourage NCDDers to add a comment to this post with a brief message to Taylor.  I’ll make sure she sees your comments.

I received this sobering message from Taylor today:

My health is deteriorating faster than I expected, but I am fighting to keep my head above water. My goal is to live to see the wildflowers this spring, but this cancer is not going to make it easy on me!

You may certainly let anyone in our network know about my situation. Renal cell carcinoma is not treatable. It can’t be cured. I can only strive to live a few more weeks as pain free as possible. Prayer seems to be a pretty good antidote (in between the morphine and methadone!).

So many things I wanted to do that I will have to leave for others who follow behind. But that is the cycle of life.

If you’ve attended an NCDD conference you probably know Taylor.  She’s a firecracker (that’s the best word I know for Taylor), with boundless energy and enthusiasm for public dialogue work.  You certainly know Taylor if you’re involved with National Issues Forums, as Taylor is an absolute star in the NIF network, having (among other things) co-founded and directed Texas Forums, an initiative of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum.

Taylor has been a wonderfully active member of NCDD, and served as the Secretary of our Board of Directors for the past couple of years.  She was instrumental in planning the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin (she lives near Austin in Salado, TX), and she was a key member of the planning team for the Austin regional NCDD workshop in October 2010 until she learned of her cancer and needed to pull back on some of her many commitments. She also ran a National Issues Forum event for conference participants and locals on the final day of the 2004 NCDD conference in Denver, Colorado.

Even with stage 4 kidney cancer, Taylor is more productive than most of us!  An email from Patty Dineen on the 17th included this update:

Meanwhile, Taylor continues pretty much full speed ahead, working online, teaching her online university course (via computer in her hospital room), to the point that her family and hospital staff conspired to put a time limit on her “connected” activities so she will rest.  She has the support and presence of her husband Terry, her parents, and other family and friends there with her, and her doctors have put together a team to oversee her treatments and care.  I’m not sure who the doctors believe to be leading the team, but I’m pretty sure that it is really Taylor.

If you know Taylor, please take a minute to add a brief note of appreciation and encouragement as a comment below.  I know she’d love to hear from a lot of NCDDers!

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Let me start us off by saying that you're an absolute inspiration to me, Taylor! I have always been a great admirer of your competence, your energy, and your positive attitude — even from the hospital bed.

    Thank you for everything you have done for our field, and for NCDD. Andy and I both send our love and best wishes to you and Terry.

  2. Ken Cissna says:

    I don't even know you, Taylor–sorry I haven't had the pleasure–but I'm inspired just reading Sandy's posting about you and your work. Best wishes.

  3. Even though we only interacted briefly a few years ago I was clear when I met you that you are something VERY special!! Thanks are inadequate for the contribution you have been to the world and will be from heaven. I'd like to put in my request for you to be one of my guardian angels. I know you will get many such requests but I know you have ample ability to honor them all.
    With Love and Gratitude,

  4. Linda Blong says:

    Hey Taylor,
    What a shining firey star you are! Seems like yesterday that we were doing DDPE together. But oh so much has happened since then. Not the least of which is your living a great epic love story. And of course your continuing to make the world a better place every single day. I am praying with you Taylor, and feeling so grateful for the beauty and grace that you bring into the world with barely bounded energy and creativity.

  5. Tim Erickson says:

    Taylor – thanks very much for your ongoing enthusiasm, support, and inspiration. I remember fondly our first meeting at the Rockefeller retreat we both attended and the time we spent together that weekend.

    Also, I still owe you for your trip to Minnesota and the support you showed for E-Democracy.Org.

    Also, thanks even more for getting me invited to Austin and your hospitality while I was there. I always look forward to NCDD events and gatherings and your presence is a key ingredient.

    I am saddened to hear the news of your illness, but pleased to hear that you are still "getting things done." I'd expect nothing less of you. I'll be thinking of you often in the days to come and wish you the best. Take care….

    Your friend and colleague,

    Tim Erickson

  6. Taylor,

    Although we've never met (that I recall, although I attended the 2008 Austin conference), I was moved to tears by your honesty, acceptance, and call to action. As I gaze at your photo I celebrate your life, grieve your loss, and embrace your request to carry on your passions and your work. May your journey be filled with love and peace. Thank you for reaching out to touch my heart so deeply.

  7. Leanne Nurse says:

    Dearest Taylor,

    I am praying, along with people all over the country, for your health and happiness. The power of your fierce determination and gentle wisdom will turn this battle towards a better outcome. I'm looking forward to seeing you next month when I come to Texas.


  8. Keep fighting, Taylor. We love you!

  9. Erika Imbody says:

    Taylor, we only met once or twice at Kettering workshops, but I've always admired and hoped to emulate your passion for your work. When we were first starting to plan for the systematic hosting of NIFI forums at Presidential Libraries, I was so thankful you were part of that group and that you were an inspiration and an example to the rest of us who were just starting to establish partnerships. My thoughts are with you. Peace and strength.

  10. Leilani Henry says:

    Hi Taylor,
    What a bright light you are? Your smile is infectious and your mind is inspiring to me. I remember our interactions at NCDD, I typically found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with your comments, questions and suggestions. Many blessings for your sacred journey. I hold you in my heart. Yours in Spirit, Leilani

  11. Craig Paterson says:

    Taylor…I’m so incredibly blessed to have you as a mentor, colleague, co-conspirator and friend…over many years, and in a wide variety of deliberative adventures. Damn…what good times, and what meaningful and important projects!! You’ve left your powerfully positive mark on many communities…but, more importantly, you’ve left your joy-filled mark on many hearts…and we’re proud to carry that mark forward with you by our sides always.

    Continuing the journey with you…Craig

  12. Lynda Baker says:

    You are in my thoughts and prayers.
    I am grateful for our association al beit brief.
    What a gift you are!

  13. Taylor,

    You are such a wonderful woman – so full of life and energy. I will never forget how you welcomed me in your home. We laughed so much (and drank good wine) and have been good friends and colleagues ever since. I very much see you as a my mentor. You are in my heart, my prayers, and I love you very much.


  14. Nancy Kranich says:

    So glad you're home and getting rest. All the ALA Center for Public Life advisers want me to send regards. Some only know you through Skype and Elluminate, but they certainly feel connected. We're all thinking about you and eager to hear about your upcoming flight. You remain our guiding light. I have the warmest thoughts of our many adventures here, there, and everywhere. Keep up that wonderful spirit. Love and hugs.


  15. Barbara Chappell says:

    Hello Taylor
    I have heard much about your great work from your friend Diane Miller. Know that you have been an inspiration all the way to Adelaide in South Australia.
    Peace and love to you.

  16. Martha McCoy says:

    Dear Taylor,

    Pat and I are sending you much love. Your spirit and inner light are amazing, and you touch so many of us with your infectious caring, energy, laughter, and passion. Please know you are in our thoughts….. There is a huge crowd of grateful NCDDers around you in spirit!

    Love, Martha

  17. John Spady says:

    Dearest Taylor,
    We have met on and off through NCDD and you and I were on the [NCDD08-DESIGN] team together. I am a big admirer of the National Issues Forums and your work with them. I just purchased many copies of Yankelovich's latest book "Toward Wiser Public Judgement" and I am distributing them to my co-workers as a visceral example of where I want to take much of the civic engagement work in my own community. Thank you. Your efforts have had an impact on my life and will continue to influence the work of many others in our field.

  18. Neil Meili says:

    Ah Taylor,

    Hard to believe this news. Such a force you are I thought you would go on forever. There is much in physics and faith (and poetry of course)to suggest that it still may be true.

  19. Lars Torres says:

    Praying for a miracle to match that of your life Taylor from here in Vermont, where we're tucked in beneath about 22 inches of snow. These are going to be some dam fine, strong wildflowers this spring. I will send you pictures of the crocus when they poke their early rising heads through the mottled earth. In the meantime, keep that beautiful head of yours above the waves. Enjoy the morphine while its free. Keep strong in your fight. With love, lars

  20. Janet Fiero says:

    We met first at at the MRERP meeting held in Missoula MT. What a treat to have you in my new hometown and hear your ambitious ideas on how to save the Missouri River. You were a wonderful hoot at the Austin NCDD…so much fun and full of new beginnings with your husband. I sit here in my favorite chair on a sunday morning with a sadness and resignation about your difficult ending. Take with you the knowledge that you have touched many in small and large ways. I, for one, will carry your laugher and joy with me. I hear you chuckling now.
    Thank you for touching my life,

  21. Iwanka Kultschyckyj says:

    Hey Taylor,

    As you read this you gotta know you don't know of me but you just may have made a difference in my life during the 2008NCDD. That is to say more directly put, you have succeeded in effectively forming my mind and as a result our collective future for generations to come.

    Please know I am holding your hand across the miles. With appreciation, gratitude and hope, iwanka

  22. Taylor — I'm penning a much longer note to you today — but I wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate the great adventures we had together starting in the mid-90's…blending civic empowerment work in the world of adult literacy and libraries with the tools of D&D. Others may not know that our explorations led to a 3-part model that doubled voter turnout among audiences least likely to vote! What fun we had experimenting with NIF, the PPI's and LSTA grants and how lucky I was to have a wise, caring partner like you. Be assured that the fruits of those efforts live on in projects that have become permanent features of California's civic landscape. I admire your fearlessness – to try new projects, new situations, new technology. This renal cancer appears to be the ultimate challenge of your courage and you are facing it with your signature grace. Sending hugs…Susan

  23. I am moved by your courage and your humility. I do not know you–but I greatly appreciate the paths you have blazed with your leadership and devotion to the NCDD cause. If you're body doesn't give you the relief till spring to see the flowers on this side–know that there are many more, much more beautiful ones on the other side. My prayer is that we will meet some day on that side together–and share the stories that gave us the pause to appreciate all that this world has to offer in spite of its many challenges. It is the thing that life on this side is made of. May your journey be peaceful and fulfilling to the end of these days.

  24. Mike Aaron says:

    Crap. Taylor, you are one of the reasons I moved into this field. Your kindness, energy and welcoming ways created a space for me to move into, and made me feel like there was a place for me to make a contribution.

    Your energy created opportunities for me to practice and learn, and your encouragement kept me going when it didn't work so well. We are SO going to miss you, not only in this field, but even in this species. We need all the good examples we can get, and you've been one of the best, Taylor.

    Your inspiration and contributions will stand out as long as I've got memory, and I will endeavor to live up to the example you've set.

    I feel love, sadness and gratitude. You will be sorely missed.

  25. Hey there, Taylor – I wish we’d been able to get together more often in recent years. Like Susan, I first remember our working together in the early days of NIF, especially your work with Kettering on the literacy program, which thanks to people like you, Susan, Gina Paget, Beth Broadway and others was probably the most meaningful and successful application of NIF up to that time. You always brought such a joyful spirit, generosity, smarts, and dedication to your work. I will never forget the time during one of the early NIF Public Policy Institutes when, lacking a starter video tape, we needed a fun and informative way to kick off a forum with about 150 people. You, John Gastil, and two other folks each took on the persona of one of the choices and acted it out for 2 minutes a so. You guys brought the house down! Thank you for being such a great civic leader and friend. …Love, Pat

  26. Nash says:

    Though I don’t know you, I am inspired reading about your life and work. I am hoping what ever you have done and planning to do will inspire many generations to come. I also don’t believe too much in doctors. I know three weeks will wonderfully extend far beyond that. My prayers for your health and betterment.

  27. Gina Paget says:

    Dear Taylor, what a shock it was to hear about your illness from Pat Scully this morning. I am saying my prayers! I have so many memories of you and the times we worked together. I think the last time was at a PPI. I believe we moderated a forum together, I remember how impressed I was with your artful moderating! I remember a story you told when you lived in Calif. You had made an amazing bargain with a doctor because your didn't have health insurance. You were a real light in the NIF literacy effort and a joy to all who worked with you.

  28. Vicki Totten says:

    Dear Taylor – I remember the first time I met you – during the higher education round table breakfast meetings, and I thought, "wow, this is such an amazing, smart, and interesting woman." You have never failed to live up to that initial impression. You have opened up such worlds to me. Thanks for your willingness to risk having me as your roommate at the "No Better Time" conference – it felt like we had been friends forever. I love watching how you pull people out – no matter where you are. Your natural love of people and natural joy draws people to you – me included. You have touched my life and my work in so many ways and I am forever grateful to you. Love, Vicki

  29. Dear Taylor, with tears in my eyes and a smile on my lips and in my heart, I thank you so very much for the legacy that will live on long beyond you and all of us and that is, as many have said, your inspiration. Your personality, gregarious laugh, smile, and warm Texas hospitality have been hallmarks of your life. You have led us all, Taylor, to link arms around the world and show that we are one humanity – what possible better gift of peaceful hope could you leave the world? Hold fast the words of Hans Christian Andersen, who said, "Every man's life is a fairy tale written by God, in which the end is really the beginning." Prayers ascend from Iowa and around the globe to envelop you. Take care, God bless, and thank you so much for your friendship and example. You will live on. Love, Kim

  30. Lucas Cioffi says:

    Hi Taylor,

    I remember that the first NCDD event I ever attended was your forums in Austin to address the growing achievement gap in local high schools. Seeing the passion through which you addressed the issue helped me understand the passion I was already reading in the words of others on the NCDD discussion as they described their projects. After that great experience, I became hooked on deliberation.

    It's amazing to read the comments listed above– they're evidence of the deep impact you've had on so many people– indeed we are all your extended family.


  31. Cathey Capers says:

    Dear Taylor:
    Just reading the news and buoying comments from admirers around the world. Count me in.
    I so enjoyed sharing time with you around dialogue- and our lunch together some months ago now just about life. Your presence is so heartening.
    The post that Sandy shared shines with your candor and courage.
    Today the redbuds bursting from their bare branches are a prelude to the wildflowers you anticipate. I send this blessing: May you be free from pain and enjoy this spring's wildflowers. Thank you for your generous nature. love and peace, Cathey.

  32. Sthea Mason says:

    Dear Taylor, Thank you from a relatively young dialogue practitioner, for your passion and for taking the time to encourage me! I met you at the 2008 conference in Austin and will not easily forget you. Wishing you peace.
    Sthea Mason

  33. Shiva Subbaraman says:

    Dear Taylor:
    I can't salute you enough: it is how you walked through the world, and now, it seems as you walk towards a different form of life–that you are such an inspiration and show so much grace. You will see the wildflowers; and I hope, we can all continue to keep your legacy alive. Much peace to you and your loved ones.


  34. Taylor – I knew you were ill but had no idea at how serious it is. I feel so blessed to have had the minimal interactions with you – including the hug the last time I saw you – that I've had – you are an incredible inspiration, and I can only hope to be half the practitioner you are. You can be certain this world is a better place as a result of your being here. Prayers and more hugs, Susan

  35. Lou Klepner says:

    My thoughts are with you Taylor. Xoxo!

  36. Katie Howard says:

    Dearest Taylor,
    Sending you love and light and my prayers. I am glad to know that you are surrounded by those who love you (near and far), and often think of the many times our paths have crossed at DDPE, talking NIF in the Bay Area, and the many NCDD conferences where your presence has been so central. Wish we could talk libraries, civic engagement and public space – but in the meantime big hugs from NorCal.

  37. Daniel Clark says:

    Dear Taylor,
    Everybody at AmericaSpeaks is seending you our love and keeping you in our hearts. We were blessed to have you work with us in 2010 on Our Budget, Our Economy. I was frequently touched by your energy and commitment. Your work and expertise have greatly advanced the work of deliberative democracy. Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you and benefit from your deeds and actions.

    Daniel Clark

  38. Jim Rough says:

    Hi Taylor,
    I'm sorry to hear this news about your condition. I remember our short visit during the Austin NCDD conference when we talked about staying connected. You spontaneously and generously offered to help me get a seminar organized in the Austin area, which impressed me then. I'm sorry we won't be working together but it's an honor to have known you briefly and a joy to hear of the implicit "working together" that you have been doing with so many. Jim

  39. PJ Boone-Edgerton Lo says:

    Hi Taylor,

    I am not sure if I bumped into at one of the NCDD conventions ore not. Thank you for sharing your story with us and I pray for all the healing (not just physical) love, joy and peace to creep into all your time and I hope for you spring flowers.

  40. Tobin Quereau says:

    I didn't realize how your condition had changed, Taylor, but I know that you have always seemed to thrive on challenges. This one takes the cake, however!

    I'm sending my thoughts and prayers and light your way with many memories the times we have worked together and my hopes for an early spring and some beautiful flowers to honor your spirit and your gifts.


  41. Taylor,

    You altered what I thought, experienced and now know is possible in community, society and in politics.

    I had no idea you were ill. The amazing woman…human being that you are keeps an affixed energetic, clear, warm, caring, can-do Taylor as my view of you. So it shall forever remain my view of you.

    May God's countenance shine on you and your family.

    I love you,


  42. Taylor, my friend, my heart stirs and my eyes are tearing up as I write this. I consider you a shining star in our world. You are one of those unique individuals, a "bridger", working to help people with different points of views come together and work towards a common purpose. You have blessed me with so many "AHA! moments" where I felt my mind opening to new concepts and ideas for how to do my job better. I will keep you in my prayers. With much love for the wonderful human being you are, Vanessa.

  43. Priya Parker says:

    Dearest Taylor,

    When I think of you I think of a huge smile on your face, full of life and energy, joy and the hope of possibility. I particularly think of your beautiful laugh, and sparkling eyes.

    I also didn't know that you were ill, and am so so sorry and feel so sad. I imagine you, even now, full of life.

    I think about you sharing with all of us your work in National Issue Forums, in Russia, speaking to us at DDPE and all of the myriad ways you have been infusing hope as well as the discipline of sustained effort and practice.

    You've always encouraged me, believed in me, and so many of the younger practitioners, encouraging us to keep going and believing in what we're doing.

    You are a beacon to all of us and I'm praying for you, your health and your family. I'm sending you a huge huge hug.

    With love,

  44. Crystal says:

    Hoping that you have another opportunity to see and smell the wildflowers. – Crystal

  45. Todd Moore says:


    I love you and say this without malice or pleasure:YOUR WORK IS NOT DONE. WE NEED YOU. TEXAS NEEDS YOU. THE WORLD NEEDS YOU.

    You can beat this!! Do it and let's get back to work.


  46. Marla Crockett says:

    Taylor, my friend–I was away for a few days and couldn't respond to this news easily. And it isn't easy news to accept, so I won't. But as you've done with so many, you encouraged me in this field, worked with me as a true and dedicated partner, and became a dear friend. We've also had a lot of fun along the way, so don't give up, Honey. You're loved, valued and needed. Let that light shine through your whole being and bring you peace and healing. This whole D&D village is behind you, and we're here for you. Much love and strength to Terry and your wonderful family.

  47. Bob Stains says:

    Hey Taylor,
    I've always enjoyed any connection I've had with you: in workshops or just shooting the breeze at conferences. Your energy energizes, and your thinking inspires. I'm pulling for you (and if it's OK I'll keep you in my prayers); all of us at PCP are. Hang in there, friend. May you be surrounded by love.
    Bob Stains

  48. Dear Taylor:
    I have heard from Mark Cass and Pat Scully about your illness, and I wanted to send you my love and prayers that you will see the spring flowers and be given hope in the cycles of life! I remember our work together on NIF and literacy with great joy, and appreciate the dedication and spirit you always bring to whatever you do. Know that you have touched many lives and if you never did another thing, you would still have done more than most of us!!!!!!

  49. Jan Simon says:

    Taylor, you are my inspiration. Since the time I was fortunate enough to have you as my instructor in my civic engagement class, my eyes have been opened to our world's possibilities. Your work is important. You are important to so many people, including me. Please know that you have changed me for the better.
    Peace. Hugs. Love. Jan Simon

  50. Julie Hantman says:

    Taylor, we've never met, but I met Diane Miller some months ago by phone. If we are judged by – or more importantly, grow by – the company we keep, I can tell you are indeed a firecracker, too, whose ebbs of influence for good in this world are extensive and real. Your energy and spirit are inspiring me. You can be sure this same outpouring, and others like it, will continue to support and engulf all your friends and family as well. best, Julie Hantman

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